Zune 2.0 gets official

CNET Senior Editor Donald Bell discusses Microsoft's latest Zune MP3 player announcement.

Latest Microsoft Zune MP3 players.
Click here to see the Microsoft Zune 2.0 slide show.

Microsoft has officially revealed its plans for new 4GB, 8GB, and 80GB Zune MP3 players (the rumormongers nailed this one). The new players are expected out in November, priced at $149, $199, and $249, respectively. The 80GB version is only available in black, but both the 4GB and 8GB versions will be available in black, red, pink, and green. While the news hasn't exactly knocked us off our feet, there are some interesting new features worth noting (skip to the end to find out what they didn't add).

Wireless sync
Zune users can now sync their player to a computer over a home Wi-Fi network. This is a feature Zune users have been asking for from the very start, so it's nice to see it finally implemented. Existing Zune users (all 1 million) will also be given the new wireless sync feature once the firmware upgrade hits in November.

Zune Social
Zune.net is getting an overhaul, and with it will come a new online music community allowing users to create customizable "Zune Cards" (yes, we're trying to keep a straight face). From the looks of it, the Zune Card is a little Web 2.0 widget that automatically keeps a running tally of your favorite music based on information fed to it from your computer's Zune software. The song titles listed on your Zune Card link back to the Zune Marketplace, allowing all your Zune buddies to preview and perhaps purchase the music you've recommended. If you're expecting Microsoft to cut you in on the revenue made off your recommendations, don't hold your breath.

I'm trying not to rush to judgment before I see it, but my first impression is that Zune Social sounds like a watered-down Last.FM, sprinkled with Microsoft corporate cool-repellent.

Media Center
Tight integration with the video-recording capabilities of Microsoft's Windows Media Center platform is another one of those features (like wireless syncing) that we're happy to see, but really should have been included with Zunes to begin with. If you're using Windows Media Center, or derivatives such as Windows Vista Home or Windows Vista Ultimate, you can now sync PC-recorded TV content directly to your Zune. Like last year's Toshiba Gigabeat S, we suspect that the Zune's Windows Media Center compatibility will mean you can sync TivoToGo content as well, but we'll have to wait and see.

What's missing?
While the new Zunes seem like fun, they don't look like the iPod-pummeling horsemen of the apocalypse we were expecting. What about wireless music and movie downloads, Internet radio streaming, unrestricted Zune-to-Zune music sharing, or iPhone-esque Internet and e-mail support? It's as if Steve Jobs fired cannon at Microsoft filled with iPhones and iPod Touches, and Bill Gates retaliated with a fistful of the Zunes we should have seen last year.

That said, the Zune is obviously set to compete against the iPod Nano and the iPod Classic, and in this context the latest Zunes have a lot going for them. Historically, the Zune trumps the iPod on audio fidelity, as well as screen size and picture quality. Still, if audio and video quality weren't enough to give the iPod a run for its money last year, what's to say this year will be any different?

Need a closer look? Here's our second-generation Zune slide show.

 

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